When I was pregnant with The Boy, my plan for feeding him was at I would nurse until he grew teeth, and then I figured I would be too freaked out at the possibility of my nipple being bitten off to want to stick it in his mouth anymore. I also planned to pump when I went back to work, and I wasn’t really sure if I would keep pumping after I stopped nursing.
Then, I have written before, The Boy ended up being born 13 weeks early. Babies that premature can’t eat right away. They just don’t know how to suck, swallow, and breathe the way a newborn does, because their brains aren’t ready for something that complex. So, instead, The Boy got his first nutrition through an IV, and after that it came through a feeding tube. And what they put in that feeding tube was my breast milk, mixed with a calorie fortifying formula, to help him bulk up.
I started pumping on the day he was born, using a loaner pump from the hospital. It was a ginormous thing and it took me a while to get the hang of getting the flanges arranged on my breasts and working the controls on the pump at the same time. So, my first pumping session home from the hospital, I asked The Hubs to adjust the suction while I held the flanges on. I kept telling him “A little more, a little more” and that’s when he decided it would be easier to start at the maximum suction and dial down instead. (Exhaustion makes even smart people do stupid things.) The string of swear words that came out of my mouth at that moment would have made Ava Gardner blush. He was not allowed to touch my breast pump ever again.
Once he was big enough to try feeding by mouth, he both bottles of his breast milk-formula cocktail, and we also tried nursing. Now, most preemies tend to do better nursing instead of bottle feeding–it tends to make their heart rates and breathing stabilize. The Boy, however, was the opposite, and he would desat horribly when I tried to nurse him. After a couple of attempts that didn’t go all that well, I decided maybe it was best just to feed him bottles until he got home from the hospital, and then make an attempt at nursing in the comfort of our own home, where we no longer needed to worry about him desatting. So I kept on pumping.
But at home, the few times I tried to nurse him, he screamed bloody murder. The Boy wanted nothing to do with my boobs, period. Holding a screaming, unhappy baby who was rejecting me felt pretty damn shitty. It felt like the opposite of bonding with him. It felt like torture. We both cried. And I quickly decided that I would just keep on pumping. And I did, until he was a year old, when I decided I had had enough of the pump and I stopped.
I didn’t choose to exclusively pump, if you really think about it. My son’s prematurity made that choice for me. It was one of the many times that I had little control over how I could parent my child during the first year of his life. His prematurity was driving the train pretty often.
What I took away from the experience of feeding The Boy is that feeding your baby is a super emotional thing for moms. It was one of the biggest surprises about becoming a parent for me, just how emotional a thing feeding is. How much it hurt my heart when The Boy refused to nurse. How powerful it felt to be able to provide him with breast milk even though my body couldn’t carry him to term. Feeding you child is just a very emotional thing.
And this is why it is so important to be extremely careful when you talk to other moms about how they feed their child. Because it is so emotional, it is very easy to come off as a Judgy McJudgerson when you talk to other moms about how they feed their baby. It’s easy for well-meaning comments to be received as judgment. Especially because, for many moms, what they planned for feeding didn’t work out for reasons beyond their control, and so the judgment they feel about their feeding method feels especially unfair.
And because it is so emotional, that is also why I think it is so important to help women feel supported in whatever feeding method they use. I honestly believe that most American women are aware of the benefits of nursing. They know breast milk’s benefits, or if they don’t, someone will tell them about it at some point in their pregnancy. Most women are not stupid. They gather information and then make a decision about how they will parent based on that information…or, the realities of their situation dictate their decision.
So, I think the best approach to discussing this topic with other moms is to ask open ended questions, and then to LISTEN to them. Listen to them talk about why the feed the way they do. And then tell them “I support you.”